My Experience of Yoga

My Experience of Yoga

It is nearly 50 years since I sat on Newberry Beach in Combe Martin North Devon and wrote the book Yoga and Relaxation.  I was 33 years old at the time and I am now 81.  Looking back across those years I can see that my most powerful experiences in regard to the essence of yoga were met after I wrote the book.  Because of that I have wanted to revise it, or at least to add comments to what was originally said.  Out of that desire these notes have arisen.

One of the first important statements in the book is a quote, as follows.

“It is maintained that the study and practice of Yoga purifies the body, improves the health, and strengthens the mind; that, above all, it intensifies spiritual realisation. Every person with sound mind and body is capable of attaining Yoga in some measure. The earlier in life the training is begun the better, but it is never too late to start its practices.” So writes Theos Bernard.[i]

In the west we usually see yoga as a series of postures that people try to do perfectly. That is really a form of physical exercise, but yoga as it is described in the classics on the subject, such as Hatha Yoga Pradipka and The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali describe it as having very different aims, For there are 7 stages of Hatha Yoga, and postures is only the second stage.

To start with there are several different steps in Hatha (physical) Yoga, and they do not even mention the postures at the beginning. The first necessary steps are yama and niyama, that is followed by asanas, the postures. Then comes pranayama, breath control. The following steps are Pratyahara (subjugation of senses), Dharana (withdrawing the senses from external phenomena), Dhyana (remaining unidentified with body or mind), Samadhi (transcending the realms of body, mind and intellect), and Samyama (knowledge beyond the mind and intellect).

“There is not a single asana that is not intended directly or indirectly for the mind; however, for the advanced meditation practices of there are only two postures that are considered essential. These siddhasana and padmasana. The other asanas have been devised to strengthen different parts of the body and to develop the needed strength required by the rigid physical disciplines imposed upon the student… Posture becomes perfect when effort to that end ceases, so that there may be no more movement of the body. The requirement that the posture must be held for three hours is the chief difficulty and makes intelligible why it took so long to achieve it.” Quoted from Hatha Yoga by Theos Bernard

This understandably because – it must be kept in mind that these practices were devised centuries before the birth of this Western civilization and that they were intended to be used by those living in a very primitive material environment. The Yogi usually carried on his practices in a small cave or in an isolated retreat in the jungle. There were no conveniences; there was nothing but a stream of water and the need to cleanse the system internally. After one has mastered the technique, it will be difficult for him to conceive of a more convenient method.

Also it is interesting to note that the last levels of yoga, Samadhi, may be attained by using cannabis.

Although I followed these steps as fully as I could, I was working full time, being a parent to my children, and I couldn’t keep it up. As Theos Bernard who managed the whole demanding process says, it was usually done in a different culture where one had servants caring for your needs. But as I explained at the beginning I found a way by using a mixture of different approaches.

However, from yoga I learnt that in the West things have to be done to strengthen the personality or the ego – in other words you need to strengthen you and your will. For example, many people cannot stop eating because they are ruled by their instincts. So fasting is an excellent way of testing your strength. And by fasting I do not mean like Ramadan where the person simply doesn’t eat during sunrise and sunset, which in Africa was fairly early. Fasting means to not eat anything for several days. I did it for a fortnight when I started in my twenties, and now do it two days a week. For millennia humans have fasted for spiritual, emotional, and physical reasons–as a way to heal their bodies, reconnect to the sacred, regain a sense of life’s purpose.

I had the good fortune to come across Theos Bernard’s book Hatha Yoga early in my own quest for the kernel of the practice. Realising that the methods Bernard described were based on the ancient traditions I tried to follow the same path.  But at the time I was working full-time, running another business part-time and trying to be a father to my children and be a husband to my wife.  The traditional practice of Hatha Yoga Bernard describes arose in a culture that for many was not work dominated, and practitioners could be supported by servants or a community of people sympathetic to the discipline.  It needs a lot of time, courage, determination and great energy.  I made myself ill trying to follow that path. However it did lead me to an appreciation of what traditional Hatha Yoga was aiming at and how it was achieved.  It also gave me a means of assessing much that is called Yoga in today’s world, East and West. In saying that I pay homage to the masters of that ancient path.

(Perhaps the most ancient and honoured method of all originated in the East—the method of yoga, which, besides its avowed goal of spiritual enlightenment, seems to liberate the ego from its conscious limitations, making available the exotic fantasies of the subconscious. The witness of history and the testimony of thousands indicate that the system of yoga, if meticulously followed, can achieve this liberation. Unfortunately these results require years of persistent effort. Modern man, it seems, hardly cares to spend the time.) Quoted from LSD Psychoanalysis

When you press onwards to the other levels mentioned, one level leads to causing your body to vibrate or move spontaneously. Vibration and shaking is movement, and movement is one of the main signs of life. Life and growth are interwoven, and one of the first signs of massive personal growth or change is shaking or vibration in the body or pelvic movement or even the feeling of electricity running through your body. That was why the Quakers used that name, because they shook or quaked as they were moved by the Life Force, or as many people call it – God; also the Shakers had the same experience. So my aim was to release this with modern methods. I call LifeStream

There is no way – there is no path

The strange thing about yoga is that although one may make efforts to gain enlightenment, in fact we all have it and so there is no need to make an effort.

This life – of enlightenment – is just a describer, and one of the things it sees is that this state does not belong to anyone. It’s not something you can get from someone. It’s who everyone is. From here, the highest volume is the sound of the infinite ocean that we all are. Suzanne Sega.

Since there is nothing to meditate on, there is no meditation.

Since there is nowhere to go astray, there is no going astray.

Although there is an innumerable variety of profound practices, they do not exist for your mind in its true state.

Since there are no two such things as practice and practitioner, if, by those who practice or do not practice, the practitioner of practice is seen to not exist, thereupon the goal of practice is reached and also the end of practice itself.

-Padmasambhava

“Do nothing and let things happen. Oftentimes the hands alone can fantasy; they model or draw figures that are quite foreign to the conscious.” Carl Jung

Of course the above statements are made from a mind free from the restraints most of us live under, for a great Yogi, Shirdi Sai Baba in questioning his disciple said:

“The disciple is a being whose essential nature is Know­ledge, isn’t he?”

“Yes.”

“Then there is no need to give him knowledge but simply to remove the veil of ignorance that hides the existent Knowledge. This, of course, is not to be done at one stroke, since the disciple is immersed in age-old ignorance and needs repeated instruction, perhaps through life after life. And what is this instruction through speech about what is beyond speech? Isn’t it like removing the cover? Ignorance conceals the pre-existent Knowledge just as water plants cover the surface of a pond. Clear away the plants and you have the water. You don’t have to create it; it is already there. Or take another example—a cataract grows on the eye and prevents a man from seeing; remove the cataract and he sees. Ignorance is the cataract. The universe is the efflorescence of the indescribable Maya, which is ignorance; yet ignorance is needed to illuminate and dissolve ignorance … Jnana is not something to be attained, it is eternal and self-existent. On the other hand, ignorance has a cause and an end. The root of it is the idea that the devotee is a separate being from God. Remove this, and what remains is Jnana. ( Jnana refers to pure awareness that is free of conceptual encumbrances – See The way of Mary)”

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[i] From his book Hatha Yoga, published by Rider.

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